Personal Data and E-Mail

The data that we generate as individuals while using various services hosted by companies defines our behavior. Online food delivery services like Zomato, Swiggy know about our food preferences. Online shopping platforms like Amazon, Flipkart know about our spending capabilities and product preferences. Online cab service providers like Uber recognize most of the places that we visit. The same happens for every other company that you involve yourself with. The amount of information that they have about you depends on how aggressively you make use of their services.

Now imagine yourself as a puzzle. Since these companies collect various information about you, they each have separate pieces to complete the puzzle. Zomato has a piece, Amazon has a piece, and so on for each and every service. Most of you use GMail by Google as your primary email provider. It only makes sense to have the emails from all the services that you use at one place. Google reads through your emails (an excuse to do so) and that is how you get all those timely reminders flawlessly whether to pay your bill or about a movie that you are supposed to watch, etc. Your food receipts, product receipts, cab receipts everything goes in there. Apart from that you might also be using Google Photos, Drive, Contacts, YouTube, etc. Does this mean Google has all the pieces of the puzzle or at least most of it? YES. That is too much trust and power that you are giving to one single company; explains the personalized ads that you come across as if someone has been reading your conversations with your best friend.

Google monetizes what it observes about people in two major ways:

1. It uses data to build individual profiles with demographics and interests, then lets advertisers target groups of people based on those traits.

2. It shares data with advertisers directly and asks them to bid on individual ads.

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

What is Email if not GMail?

There are too many options to choose from. It is always better to choose a provider that won’t use your own data to show you annoying ads. Premium email providers are paid while there are a few which are privacy friendly and free (they sustain themselves from donations). I will list the ones which I have personally used.

  • Mailbox is an ad-free email service starting from 1 Euro per month. The company is established in Germany and has a privacy policy in accordance with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). They do not require any personal info while signing up, you don’t even need a phone number. Mailbox lets you create email aliases but the limit depends on the plan you subscribe to. There is a free trial of 1 month after you sign up, so go ahead and try it here.
  • RiseUp is a volunteer-run collective providing free secure email and other online services since 1999. The need and purpose for RiseUp is pretty straightforward. No personal info is required to sign up. It lets you create unlimited email aliases for the same inbox. An invite code that can only be generated by existing users is necessary for sign up. Feel free to contact me for an invite if you are genuinely interested.
  • Disroot is a platform providing online services based on principles of freedom, privacy, federation and decentralization. SignUp is free, all they ask for is an alternate email id that is used to verify whether you are a human or not.
  • Gandi dot net is a paid provider of domains, email and secured hosting. If you fancy a custom domain for email and are willing to pay then Gandi is made for you. My current domain is also rented by Gandi. The pricing varies on the type of domain that you choose.

By moving out of GMail completely, I have been able to isolate all my data and services. I use Gandi dot net for my primary email and RiseUp for all secondary or spam purposes. My college still keeps me linked to a Google account with its .edu email; this one I cannot escape. Using it solely for academic purposes is the only workaround.

Lastly, it is my advice that you should not interlink different accounts unless it is so necessary that you cannot do without it. One click signup or login is a trap. The following image shows the biggest clickbait that exists when privacy is concerned.

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